Get ready for the gardening season with a look behind the scenes at trial gardens and how plants make the cut from grower to your garden.
Growers, including Proven Winners, trial plants before they make it to your garden. That’s what makes a great plant better. They want to make sure that plants can survive in a variety of conditions without much care (such as the Supertunia ‘Blue Skies’ petunia above). Because plants are put to the test, it means that home gardeners can be assured when they buy plants at The Home Depot that only the best and hardiest plants make it from a greenhouse grower to your garden.
“We put the emphasis on the home gardener and make sure to put these plants out in a lot of different environments,” says Kerry Meyer, program director at Proven Winners. This national brand puts its plants to the test at trial sites ranging from climates in Canada to Miami and Maryland to Oregon with plenty of sites in between.
During Proven Winners’ internal plant trials, no plants get sprayed for pests and nothing gets deadheaded. Because it’s a trial, they aim is to put the plants to the test. Besides water and fertilizer, there’s nothing else the plants get once they make it to trial sites.
“One of the things we look for during the trials are plants that do well in summer with as little intervention as possible,” Meyer says.
This spring, Proven Winners will unveil a number of new varieties, including ‘Colorblaze Golden Dreams’ coleus (pictured above) in The Home Depot stores and online.
‘Amazel Basil’ by Proven Winners (featured above in this writer’s home garden) came out shining through the trials. This fragrant basil brings a punch of flavor from its deeply fragrant leaves, perfect for caprese salads, Italian sauces and pestos.
Because this basil is seed sterile, it’s unlikely to produce flowers. That means all the plant’s energy is focused on producing fresh and pungent leaves for all your recipes until the first frost. In the past, if basil began to flower, it meant the end was near for the plant. But that is not the case with Amazel Basil. It’s also resistant to downy mildew, a persistent problem for other basil varieties.
To give an idea of how early Proven Winners begins trialing plants, the company has already started its potential introductions for 2021. And the plants that will be on display for the 2020 trials can be found in about 40 public university gardens and botanical gardens around the United States and Canada this spring.
Proven Winners sends plants to trial to Costa Farms in Miami. Costa Farms manages a 2-acre trial garden with 500 varieties, including those from Proven Winners. The heat-tolerant ‘Lemon A-Peel’ Black-Eyed Susan Vine Thunbergia (pictured above) received a lot of fanfare in 2017. Give this annual vine a trellis and it never stops going until the first frost, giving off more and more lemony yellow flowers.
Walking along the paths of this trial garden, blooms burst with color in every direction during a tour last year. Costa Farms’ trial garden also boasts container combinations to test performance in containers, much like home gardeners might plant.
Not far from Costa Farms, grower Pure Beauty Farms trials plants in their private greenhouses for Proven Winners.
“At Pure Beauty, our trials test how each specific plant performs and thrives in the region they will be planted,” says Victor Yanes, an owner of Pure Beauty Farms. “Our goal is to ensure that the plants we sell in your local Home Depot work best for that area. We also test our trial plants for optimal maintenance practices, for example: watering habits, sunlight needs and proper fertilization for that region.”
When trials end, Proven Winners typically selects the hardiest plants that don’t need a lot of maintenance and those that bloom from the time you plant until frost or hard frost, including the Superbells ‘Holy Cow’ calibrachoa.
In case you’re wondering what happens to plants that don’t trial well, Proven Winners says those plants still don’t get cut out entirely.
“We generally introduce 20-50 annuals in any given year,” Meyer says. “We’ve prescreened plants heavily by the time we get them to public trial gardens. If a plant fails in a public trial garden, we never at that late stage discount a plant entirely.”